2017 Oscar Predictions Post-mortem

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Over the weekend, we saw an eventful 89th Academy Award Ceremony wrapped up. Despite underwhelming viewership counts of the televised event, it will likely be remembered for a long time for the remarkable mishap in the end.

Oscars 2017 Confusion

As for our predictions performance, we got 5 out of 8 predictions right. While not phenomenal, it wasn’t such a bad for a performance given that this has been our first stab in this domain. With that said, it is important to see where and why we failed so we get to improve on it next year.

Best Movie: Moonlight

The best movie prediction is hard to explain within the confines of our dataset.  We surely were not the only ones to not see this one coming given that even PricewaterhouseCooper fumbled.

We still feel that La La Land had all the ingredients that have historically given a film the win in this category. Perhaps (though not a guarantee) if we had included the Independent Film Awards data, we may have predicted Moonlight as the winner with a slight edge. But the most plausible reason why we haven’t predicted Moonlight is because we didn’t have any variables accounting for socio psychological aspects of the awards. The changes to the voting body of The Academy in response to campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite and the sustained criticism of the Academy’s conservatism may have indeed made just enough of a difference in the final decision between two well-deserving candidates.

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Our best actor prediction miss can be explained because Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington shared the prizes that historically have the highest predictive power among each other. Denzel Washington won the Screen Actors Guild Award and was nominated for all of the rest of awards considered by the model while Affleck won the Golden Globes, BAFTA ,Critics Choice, Online Film & TV Association awards among four others. Although Casey Affleck won many more awards, the Screen Actors Guild had a particularly high importance in all models. Two of our models with different weights for each of those prizes gave us different predictions. Both models had exactly the same evaluation performance (100% accuracy). Denzel Washington’s prediction had a higher confidence so we went with Denzel Washington, but we could have just as easily chosen Casey Affleck.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight

This was the most difficult category to predict, as it seemed difficult to infer a general pattern that applied consistently over history. Arrival was nominated for the BAFTA (Lion won), which shows up as the most important variable, and it also won The Critic’s Choice and The Writers Guild awards.  However, the eventual winner, Moonlight, was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay at BAFTA, and not this category. Go figure!

Finally, Moonlight sneaked in and pulled this one off from our pick of Arrival perhaps as result of the halo effect of the overall popular support for this year’s low budget wonder that could. We don’t have any variables that account for such correlations among the various categories, but it is less common to see extreme fragmentation of the awards in a given year, i.e., if one thinks a given movie is the best in season, she’s more likely to attribute that to multiple related factors that together make for a good movie.

We’ll chew on these lessons for next year’s predictions. In the meanwhile, happy movie watching and Machine Learning modeling endeavors to all of you!

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